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THE 38TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS | Pop / Rock

The Big Winners? You Oughta Know

Alanis Morissette took home the most trophies, but it was the integrity of the ceremony that shined brightest.

February 29, 1996|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

Alanis Morissette picked up four trophies on Wednesday, but the real winner was the Grammy Awards themselves.

After years of seeing its annual record industry competition ridiculed for often favoring conventional, mainstream artists at the expense of pop music's most dynamic and innovative figures, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences finally threw in the towel.

To help avoid a repeat of such embarrassments as last year's best album nominations of the 3 Tenors album and Tony Bennett's "MTV Unplugged" collection, the academy appointed a 25-member committee to screen the nominees in the best album, record, song and new artist categories.

While not perfect, the committee choices in January included artists who did help define the pop currents of 1995, notably the splendid Seattle hard-rock band Pearl Jam, hard-core rapper Coolio, hip-hop heroines TLC and the explosive rocker Morissette.

But the committee's victory for the academy's progressive wing would have been moot if the remaining thousands of Grammy voters had opted for the conventional choices in the best album field, namely Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson.

A win by either and it would have been back to the drawing board.

So the excitement at the Shrine Auditorium when Morissette's name was announced for best album seemed in part a cheer for the Grammys' integrity itself. I would have voted for Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy" as best album, but Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill" was certainly a credible alternative--a victory for the passionate wave of '90s female artists that also includes PJ Harvey, Courtney Love and Liz Phair.

Morissette's win took some of the disappointment out of the academy's favoring of the relatively tepid Seal--over Coolio, TLC and Joan Osborne--in the best record category. Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" is a stylish record, but it lacks the distinctive features of those rivals. It is, however, a far better choice than the category's other mainstream entry, Mariah Carey's teaming with Boyz II Men on "One Sweet Day."

The issue of Grammy integrity was clearly on the minds of many of the artists during what seemed like an endless telecast.

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder expressed the lack of respect that many young musicians have for a competition that over the years has honored Milli Vanilli and not Jimi Hendrix or the Who.

"I don't know what this means," Vedder said in accepting an award for best hard-rock performance. "I don't think it means anything."

But other artists, including Morissette, seemed to give the Grammys the benefit of the doubt. Morissette accepted her awards on behalf of the new wave of stirring rock artists.

"This award does not represent the fact that I am better than any other women that were nominated with me. . . . But it does represent that a lot of people connected to what . . . Glen [Ballard] and I wrote together. I am grateful, thank you."

Even veteran Stevie Wonder, who has won 19 Grammys over the years, reached out to the new generation of musicians by praising Coolio, whose "Gangsta's Paradise," a reworking of an old Wonder tune, was the first hard-core rap song to be nominated for record of the year.

"I think it's a great rendition of the song," Wonder said backstage. "I'm behind it all the way. I think that the lyric that he did with his song and the way that he sang it brought it into the '90s. I'm just very happy that it happened."

His words reflected the hope that the Grammys have finally come of age--a hope that got a definite boost thanks to Morissette's mini-sweep.

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